Authors: Noah McQueen, Peter Kelemen, Greg Dipple, Phil Renforth, Jennifer Wilcox
Full Citation: McQueen, N., Kelemen, P., Dipple, G., Renforth, P., and Wilcox, J. Ambient weathering of magnesium oxide for CO2 removal from air. Nat Commun 11, 3299 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-16510-3
To combat the dangerous effects of climate change, new technologies are needed to remove billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. This paper analyzes the cost of a land-based process that uses a magnesium carbonate (magnesite, MgCO3) feedstock to repeatedly capture CO2 from the atmosphere.
In this process, the initial magnesium carbonate feedstock is fed into a high temperature reactor, called a calciner. In the calciner, the magnesium carbonate is heated to produce magnesium oxide (MgO) and CO2, which is subsequently captured. The produced MgO is highly reactive with the CO2 in air; at ambient conditions, the MgO and CO2 react to re-produce magnesium carbonate materials. This high reactivity means the MgO can be transported to plots of land and used to naturally uptake CO2 from the ambient air. At the end of one year, the MgO will have reacted with CO2 to form magnesium carbonates. From here, the magnesium carbonates are transported back to the calciner, where they are once again heated to re-produce the MgO and release the atmospheric CO2 as a high-purity CO2 stream which can then be captured and stored or utilized. The process can then continue cyclically, making up for any losses by adding new MgCO3 into the calciner.
Using an exploratory economic analysis, we estimate that this process could cost approximately 45 to 193 USD per tonne of CO2 captured from the air, considering the use of grid or solar electricity. The thermal energy for this process is provided by natural gas, which is combusted inside the calciner in pure oxygen, allowing for the co-capture of combustion-related CO2. The cost range presented here is large mainly on account of varying process parameters and uncertainty in the capital expenses.
This cyclical technology may achieve lower costs than optimistic projections for other direct air capture methods and has the scalable potential to remove 2 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, and thus may make a meaningful contribution to mitigate global warming.